Family run vineyards make Waipara visits worthwhile, writes Grant Allen.

Anyone familiar with the paintings of Rita Angus or Bill Sutton will recognise the land as you travel from Christchurch into North Canterbury. The foothills are soft and rolling, often with dark-purple tones and, as you travel further north, they emphasise the jagged Kaikoura Ranges.

It's a gentle landscape, a contrast to the somewhat unrelenting open flatness of South Canterbury. Various coastal beach bach settlements along the way are still traditional summer holiday destinations.

State Highway One used to be a straight-through drive from Christchurch to Picton.

Maybe you would stop for petrol and a sandwich at Cheviot, or if you were lucky, a boiled crayfish on the roadside in Kaikoura. There was little to see or do, but not any more - wine and food producers are turning the trip into a wonderland of experiences.

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I'm in love with this part of New Zealand and visit as often as possible. I particularly like the area between Amberley and Cheviot. The Waipara Valley is home to 20 or so vineyards, from the extremely well known to smaller family-operated holdings that emphasise the marriage of food and wine.

Black Estate

When the Naish family bought this vineyard they had a ready-made pool of talent. Son-in-law Nicholas Brown knew how to make wine and other family members had marketing, management and financial skills. Penelope Naish left her corporate life to manage the estate and her sister Jo looks after sales and events. Jo's husband Alistair Blair was their first full-time employee. Parents Rod and Stacey Naish offer full-time support, keeping an eye on finances, child-minding and mowing.

They rebranded and with success after success, they have leased two other vineyards to expand their range and keep up with the demand for their wine.

Penelope and Nicholas live on the estate with their two children, Sylvia and Arthur, and various chooks and pets. Nicholas loves the clay and limestone that forms the land. The clay contributes to the softness and aroma of his wine and the limestone gives strength.
Following biodynamic principles, Nicholas focuses on soil health and talks about "igniting" the soil to produce the best grapes possible.

Nicholas references the Loire Valley in his style, having worked with various vintages in this region, but he is also extremely familiar with his home territory. This is where he did "his time", learning to make wine in several of the Waipara Valley's vineyards.

The stark, black barn-like building that sits on the ridge houses the estate's tasting room and eatery. Its simple, almost school room-like interior offers sweeping views towards the hillside vines and the valley beyond.

Nothing can distract from the serious focus that the family puts on food and wine. Chef Jake Stanley makes fine food using local lamb, venison, pork, olives, cheeses, fish and salmon, as well as bread from the famous Rachel Scott in Amberley.

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With the beginnings of an estate vegetable garden, some of their supply is home-grown.

Other produce comes from several organic gardens in the area. A small blackboard menu provides a lovely range of tastes to complement the crafted vintages.

Jake shared these recipes from the Black Estate kitchen.

Recipes

Black Estate Duck Rillette
Braised lamb shoulder chops with vinegar and french beans
Dunnolly Estate

A little further down the road at Dunnolly Estate, Peter and Felicity Parish started planting vines in 1996 and produced their first wine in 2009. Ex-Auckland businessman Peter also has a family team on board. Son Matt has a Masters of Applied Science from Lincoln University and daughter Nicky is a wine-maker.

The soil at Dunnolly Estate is heavy clay, sitting over a limestone bed. As such, the family look to Burgundy for their wine style.

They shifted a large classic villa from Christchurch on to the property and have converted an implement shed into boutique accommodation.

Their land is edged by the precincts of the historic Glen Mark church and manse. Its rambling grounds with English trees provide a traditional setting.

Dunnolly is a small, hands-on operation. Once picked, pinot and chardonnay grapes are sent to Blenheim to be made into wine by Nicky.

Matt keeps his finger on the pulse from afar. He has the envious job of travelling the world looking for suitable vineyards for online retailer Naked Wines.

Meanwhile, back at home-base, Peter and Felicity keep the grapes in check with little outside help except at vintage.

Wine from Dunnolly Estate features on restaurant lists, on Air New Zealand flights and travels all around the country thanks to website sales. This year's vintage is already 50 per cent pre-sold.

The Parishes have also been involved in the Waipara Wine and Food Festival which brings together all of the vineyards and food providers from the area as far as Christchurch.

The wine from Dunnolly Estate is destined for the table. As Peter notes, "Wine has to be with food and food with wine". Such is the strong focus on the pairing of their wine with food, the Parishes have appointed Auckland-based caterer Matt Wilkinson as an ambassador.

As part of their promotional drive, Matt will cook perfectly formed dishes to be eaten while drinking Dunnolly's wines. He has shared these recipes to try as matches.

Recipes

Linguine vongole
Gianduia mousse